Hillary, abortion and her Methodist beliefs: The Atlantic misses many of the key details

So much has been written about Hillary Clinton’s Methodist beliefs, that it intrigues me when yet another publication takes a shot at them.

The Atlantic has just come out with a piece on “Hillary Clinton’s Moral Conflicts on Abortion,” which is news to those of us who heard the Democratic presidential candidate clearly state in June that her campaign “belongs” to Planned Parenthood and its supporters, donors and providers. Apparently there is some nuance here that is supposed to appeal to voters who are opposed to both abortion and Donald Trump.

During my first few years at the Washington Times in the mid-1990s, I was assigned to cover speeches, usually at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown DC, made by Clinton to abortion supporters on or before Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Clinton stated her support for abortion a multitude of times during and after this time period.

So I was intrigued to hear in The Atlantic saying she has moral conflicts about the procedure. She never sounded conflicted to me, but all the same, read on: 

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly spoken out in support of the right to abortion. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards has praised Clinton for treating reproductive issues as “more than just a sound bite” and the pro-choice organizations Emily’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America have endorsed her. However, Clinton’s views on abortion are more nuanced and reflect her religious commitments to a greater degree than partisans on either side of the issue may realize.
For the most part, Clinton’s stance matches the official stance of the United Methodist Church, or UMC -- the tradition in which she was raised and remains a faithful member. Clinton, who calls herself an “old-fashioned Methodist,” told a Newsweek interviewer in 1994 that abortion is morally wrong. One of her biographers, Paul Kengor, notes that she has turned to the UMC’s Book of Resolutions when she has wanted help reaching a decision or when grappling with a moral question. The Book accepts abortion but only in a qualified way. It professes “the sanctity of unborn human life” while allowing that certain circumstances -- “conflicts of life with life” -- may warrant terminating a pregnancy.
This may explain Clinton’s recent comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press” during which, to the dismay of many pro-choicers, she described the fetus as an “unborn person.” She has also declared her support of some “late-pregnancy” restrictions that would go into effect perhaps as soon as the “unborn person” is viable, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life or mental or physical health of the mother is at risk.

At this point I can tell that this reporter is a total neophyte on this issue. The health exception has been termed a loophole big enough to drive a Mack truck through, which is to say that, in practice, there is no restriction on abortion up to the moment of birth.

As I made my way through this piece, I also wondered if the writer had done any research on the most recent Methodist votes on abortion at its General Conference last May in Portland, Ore. Among other things, the United Methodist Church terminated its involvement in a religious abortion rights group it helped found in 1973. It also revoked its support for Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. 

I found these articles fairly easily, as the United Methodist votes were pretty big news three months ago. Why didn’t the Atlantic writer at least note the shifting in the wind at the UMC?

Instead, she interviewed Clinton’s youth pastor and gynecologist, but ignored pro-life United Methodists such as Paul Stallsworth, a North Carolina pastor who edits this site, or Mark Tooley, president of the Institute of Religion & Democracy. Both are astute United Methodists who could have offered an alternate view of Clinton’s Methodism and abortion stances.

Instead, the writer repeats the talking points of Clinton’s allies, as follows:

Spurred by this religious mandate, Clinton seems to have set aside her personal reservations about abortion in favor of “the good” of public protections for women’s health which, in her view, includes access to safe, legal procedures. Her commitment extends to partial-birth abortions, although in a 2000 New York Senate debate, she described this procedure as “horrible.” According to Politifact, in cases where a woman’s life is in danger, or her health or fertility is threatened, Clinton has insisted that the option to terminate must remain available no matter how far advanced the pregnancy. Her views, once again, recall those in the UMC’s Book of Resolutions: “We oppose the use of late-term abortion … and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger.”

Let’s be clear on this. Clinton favors partial birth abortion up until birth. Click here if you have forgotten what this procedure entails. Many of us sat through Congressional hearings on partial birth abortion back in the 1990s during the Clinton administration where it was made clear that most women had these abortions for elective reasons or because the child was handicapped, but not because the mother’s life was in danger. Remember abortionist Ron Fitzsimmons’ famous line about “lying through my teeth” about late-term abortions being done to save womens' lives? 

I remember my friends in the medical field shaking their heads over this debate, because all of them knew that if there was truly a life-of-the-mother issue at stake, you induced labor or had a C-section, not a partial-birth abortion. Dilating a woman’s cervix for two-three days, turning the kid over into a breech position, then sticking a pair of scissors into the woman’s body (and into the child’s brain) was a recipe for rupturing or tearing the uterus.  

All that debate was in 1997, folks. Is there no institutional memory at The Atlantic that knows about these things? Apparently not. Then again, this writer is a Unitarian Universalist minister and a PhD student in theology who may not have been living in the United States during that decade. But certainly there are folks at the magazine who were living here and who remember Clinton’s abortion advocacy -- and her frequent attendance at Foundry United Methodist Church -- during those years.  

The article ends with this wish:

If she acknowledges her ambivalence about the morality of abortion, she could give pro-lifers the hearing they demand. A decision to encourage nuanced engagement and be up-front about her mixed position would likely not change minds. But it could decrease the apparent polarization on this issue, and perhaps lead to greater tolerance for a diversity of complex views.

It’s too bad the writer did not share some of Clinton’s quotes during her Planned Parenthood appearances or read this Wall Street Journal guest editorial that argues that Clinton has actually headed left, not right, on abortion during this past year.

Was the goal of this article to debate whether this candidate feels "ambivalence” about the moral status of abortion? It would appear not. That would require actual reporting, which is what this piece sorely lacks.

One strange side note, in conclusion: There are tons of current photos available of Hillary Clinton from this campaign. I wonder why The Atlantic editors elected to use a picture of her from almost a quarter century ago, taken during an event that had nothing to do with her Methodist faith?

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